Mathews-Dickey Boy and Girls Club has been serving the community for decades, even since our grandparents were younger. They have expanded their organization from just being a boys club, to eventually opening up activities to girls. They teach classes from financial literacy to basic math, plus they provide sports. They are an organization that wants to help not only the children but the whole family. A community club that was created under a shade tree by Martin L. Mathews and Hubert Dickey Ballentine has impacted the lives of kids who’ve become successful professional basketball baseball, football players, doctors, engineers and many more.
DELUX had the honor to sit down with the Interim CEO of the organization Thomas Sullivan, to hear the history, the programs, the success and the future of Mathews-Dickey.
DELUX: What is the history of Mathews-Dickey Boy & Girls Club?
Tom Sullivan: Mathew-Dickeys was founded by two gentlemen by the names Martin L. Mathews and Hubert Dickey Ballentine and it was definitely founded under a shade tree because that is where they would always rest after they would take a bunch of kids to practice. When they first started this organization, it started with a huge amount of baseball teams and it got up to 70 baseball teams. The organization was founded in 1959/1960. So, the stories goes: Mr. Dickey and Mr. Mathews would always meet after practice and they would have all of these teams playing and one day they said, “they had to call this something.” Then they parted ways with that statement. Later that night around 1am, Mr. Dickey called Mr. Mathews, woke him up and said “I care what we’ll call it. We’ll call it Mathews-Dickey.” Mr. Mathews said, “I don’t know what you wanna call it but I’m going to bed right now,” then he hung up the phone and that’s how the name started, “Mathews-Dickey Boys Club” and we went on to grow and purchased a building on Shreve & Natural Bridge, 4738 Natural Bridge, and that’s where we housed all our baseball teams and a few football teams and that’s it. As time went on, we built a building here in 1981, (the current location, 4245 N. Kingshighway, 63115) and it was funded by two men, Charles F Knight of Emerson Electric and August Busch III of Anheuser-Busch. To make this possible they convinced the corporate community to come together and help us build this building. The building was handed over to us in 1982 after the construction was complete and we’ve been here ever since.
DELUX: What is your mission here at MDBGC, and what do you value?
Tom Sullivan: Our mission is to produce well-educated, physically-active, young people with families at the center of our efforts. The bottom line is, we’re an organization that has a niche that the whole world knows, and that niche is athletics. Everybody loves some type of athletics, unfortunately sometimes the world stops for athletics when you talk about Super Bowl, World Series and NBA Championships. But we use that niche for athletics to bring the children in, making sure they get an education and allowing them to become well-educated, physically-active, young people.
DELUX: How did you get in the seat to become the interim CEO of this organization?
Tom Sullivan: I’ve been here at Mathews-Dickey as an employee for 46 years. I grew up in the organization as a baseball player. I went to Sumner High School, then I played baseball at Saint Louis University .While I was there, whatever I learned, I would bring over to Mathews-Dickey to try and incorporate ideas and building the business model. As time went on, they needed someone to run some of the things I created and I eventually became Associate Director in the 70s. Since then, I’ve gone on to become Senior Vice President of Operations, Chief Operating Officer, and now Interim Chief Executive Officer.
DELUX: What purpose do you like to serve throughout the community?
Tom Sullivan: We are definitely a safe haven but everything we try to do involves teaching. We have a slogan that is “Respect, Restraint, Responsibility,” that’s through athletics, through education, and through life. You have to respect your fellow person, you have to have responsibility to yourself and others and you definitely need to have restraint to deal with adversity. We are looking for ways to make sure we teach financial literacy. This is a gap in between school, family, church and definitely college. On average, young people growing up aren’t taught to manage their money and invest. For example, a person can invest $100 and let it sit in an investment bucket and after years that money is going to be closely doubled; and those type of things aren’t taught. We try to make sure we instill this into them, so we have to bring in some sort of financial literacy and helping people understand it like how to save, how to avoid spending and not buy branding all the time. Then you have the day to day responsibilities, like staying away from drugs, we want to make sure they have a sense of abstinence, then we have an 8-week summer program which costs the parent from $175 up to $350 for the summer. Now that may seem like a lot but typically parents pay $125 a week for childcare. So with our summer program, you’re talking about 40 days of that child getting introduction to S.T.E.M (science, technology, engineering, mathematics). Plus, they get the chance to play and exercise which Is a forgotten art in the school system, which is where obesity comes in at and we fight obesity. The kids are also nutritionally fed and taken care of. Then we also introduce different speakers of success to them and they share their stories with them. So this summer program is great because when kids are at home, they are more prone to being inactive and disruptive. So we feel that we’re doing a great service to the entire family, so it’s not solely focused on the children.
DELUX: When did the club branch out to accept girls into sports?
Tom Sullivan: We started that officially in 1986 but when we built this building in 1981/1982, we had a locker room added to get the girls ready, but we’ve always served young ladies. Even in the 1960s/1970s, we had cheerleaders, but we didn’t want to stereotype them anymore. That’s not all that young ladies can do, they are athletes too; as a matter of fact, in 2017 we had a group of young ladies who were major leagues baseball World Series Champs in softball. We’ve come a long way with our young ladies, we have swimming, cheerleading, dancing, softball, and even youth leadership programs. They are allowed to do what they want to do. Our population was 3,700 in 2017, and 40% were young women. We also serve 13,000 indirect members, which are people who come through maybe twice or three times a year.
DELUX: What other activities does the Boys & Girls Club offer besides sports?
Tom Sullivan: We have STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math); another common activity is the health living program that allows us to grow our food inside building and then we turn around and produce different types of products that are healthy like juices. We have reading, singing, music, and dancing. Those activities outside of the sports. Again, we offer leadership programs, for men specifically and women specifically and a computer literacy program as well..We have a tremendous amount of activities and we find a way to combine athletics and education. We found out in the past that if a child was doing bad in school while playing a sport, we would send them over to the education side but now we’re not waiting for that. We’re saying that if you want to be in athletics, we’re going to get you a teacher and/or a coach that’s going to help you endure your challenges ahead of time.
DELUX: So it’s a requirement to take a class if you play a sport.
Tom Sullivan: That’s our plan!
DELUX: That’s good that you still make education a high priority. So with you offering a computer literacy/technology classes, do you think the increase of technology has helped you all scout and recruit more children into the club?
Tom Sullivan: Yes, it’s a soft help because we go through social media and the actual website, and we find ways to inform people and let them know about what we have to offer. We know right that if we wanted to communicate with 10 youth, we’re going to communicate with 8 of them more by their cell phone, so we’re looking for more ways to communicate with them through their phones. We’re devising ways to design our software to meet those goals to reach the youth. We inform them when they walk down the halls here with the information screens, just like they would walk down the halls of a college. We put screens up, run messages and pictures. We’re looking to design cyberspace knowledge by putting up a large screen of how other countries try to hack each other. Even with our athletic fields, we are streaming through the school boards so they can go into the parents household.
DELUX: Does the crime rate in the area affect the participation in the club?
Tom Sullivan: Yes and no. One of our greatest challenges is outside programming and we look for the city parks to be managed and give us freedom of movement and sometimes that is prevented by the freedom of movement of crime. So, we have to devise ways to keep our children safe, our parent safe and still give them the service that we deem so important. Here’s what we do now: number 1, we always ask the city to participate but don’t wait for the city to participate. We have 13.6 acres of land here, included in that is a baseball, football and softball field. We have 68,000 square feet of building. We have two gyms and a swimming pool, and classrooms that we keep structured. Plus, we have another 33 acres of baseball and football fields in Bellefontaine. We’re looking to keep creating lighting in an atmosphere that’s fun-filled, family-filled in a safe setting. As we grow further, some of our plans is to put a big football field next to our big window on the Kingshighway side, increase our parking space, build another gym, and keeping the family together. We do everything we can to the best of our efforts to keep the family close to one another if they chose to be, so they can grow together.
DELUX: What are the success stories for children who’ve participated in the activities here? Are there any who went off to play sports professionally or became extremely successful without sports?
Tom Sullivan: I can name a few. Niele Ivey was part of the organization and she went off to play basketball at Notre Dame, she is now the assistant head coach there. She won the NCAA Championship here. Ezekiel Elliott who plays for the Dallas Cowboys went here and attended City Academy. Jason Tatum is an alumni here and he plays for the Boston Celtics currently. Bradley Beal played here, and he now plays for the Washington Wizards. We have people we played in sports but did not pursue the professional sports but instead the profession of hurting people. For example, Charonn Woods, he’s a doctor and works at the Mayo Clinic. He was a walk on basketball player for Bradley University, but he decided to pursue medicine. Kenneth Poole is another alumni and he decided to study medicine as well. Thomas Sullivan, my son, grew up in organization and went on to become a United States Probationary Officer for the Federal Government. Eric Sullivan is the captain of the Harris-Stowe University campus. Brittany Witherspoon, she’s in the medical field; Frank Robinson is an engineer who is an alumni of the organization and of course there are a plenty more.
DELUX: Of course, football is one of your popular activities, what are some of your others?
Tom Sullivan: Top 3: Football, Basketball, Baseball. Top 5 is those three plus any summer activity and swimming.
DELUX: Where do you get your funding from for the organization?
Tom Sullivan: On the average, our annual budget is between $2.2- $2.3 million. Our greatest funder is The United way of Greater St. Louis. How do we raise funds? We charge a max of $75 for a membership a year, that can be used for all activities except the summer program. So, we really don’t get a lot of money from membership. Other ways we raise money is through grants and special events. We may have a concert or get funding through our program called Sheer Elegance where we teach modeling; we have done workshops for that. So we get our funding through grants, contributors, and special events like a concert. We’re looking to bring in artists like John Legend and Earth, Wind and Fire to come fill up the Fox Theater, then people will pay to see them and hopefully sponsors as well. Another way we get sponsors is it comes from our staff’s blood, sweat and tears. Their hard work plays a part too.
DELUX: Where do you see the organization going in 5 years? Would you relocate? Would you expand?
Tom Sullivan: We are not interested in relocating. We are interested in staying here and putting that extra football field on the side of the building, adding another gym on the property. We have enough land to do that. I would like to see us operate with a budget of $4 million, that would make everything comfortable in doing what we have to do. Having property like this is a huge responsibility, everyone sees the pretty bricks, but we also have to keep up with the maintenance. We have about 13 air conditioning and heating units that needs to get taken care of. There is 68,000 square feet of building and it’s both rooftop and floors, so when there’s a leak and a crack, there’s a problem. Then we have outside land that we have to take care of, and so we just see ourselves trying to build our revenue to make sure we can service our children the most effective way we possibly can. We look to reach out to the youth and in order to do that, we must have good transportation like buses or vans, things of that sort. So, we would reach out further in the 3-5-year future. There may be a time where we want to build more space somewhere else, but we would like to keep it on the campus. The thing about getting too far away, you have to have more people to manage and even if we expand, we’re going to have to have more but the further you are away, the more travel and more networking you have to do. Now technology will help us do a lot of that, but we rather keep them, our managers and employees, in close proximity so we can keep cost down.
DELUX:What last words do you have, what do you want the community to know?
Tom Sullivan: Our goal is to save the life of every child we possible can through Athletics, Education and social development and as we continue the fight we will accomplish that goal one life at a time.
DELUX: Thank you for sitting with us to talk about the organization that’s impacted many lives.
One of the founders, Martin L. Mathews celebrated his 94th birthday last weekend at the 59th Youth Awards Showcase. Founder Hubert Dickey Balletine passed away in 2000.
Mathews-Dickeys Boy and Girl Club has been around for almost 60 years and they will continue to prosper with their values and desire to help the youth.
Visit their website: https://mathews-dickey.com
They are located at:
4245 North Kingshighway Blvd.
Saint Louis, Missouri 63115